Peter Vandergoose - Gulliver and Munchaussen Outdone: A Truth to Try the Patience of a Stoick - Jordan & Maxwell, 1807, First Edition.


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London, Jordan & Maxwell, 1807. First Edition. First Impression. Hardback. Very uncommon. Pink paper boards with spine label. Interplanetary adventure. Preceding Frankenstein in its use of galvanisation for genesis. Though let's not get carried away. 

Where Shelley speculated on the use of electricity to reanimate a re-joined corpse, Vandergoose moulds golems from the wax of a giant bee (which had just fought a giant bear). If you're wondering what the protagonist-narrator did with the bee's honey...filled a lake with it, made that lake water super-tasty and downed the lot. So, Shelley's science wasn't on par with Alessandro Volta, but Vandergoose's was basically about one ppm science. Actually, I'm being very unfair, there is science in the book, and all that facetiousness apart, there are some very interesting bits, that I believe warrant academic investigation. Thankfully, there's more of the Munchaussen than the Gulliver. I quote "Reflecting upon the nature of the heat with which Prometheus imparted life and animation to his figures; I had no doubt but that it was produced by Galvanism: a secret known perhaps, in those times, to none but himself. Sensible by experience of its efficacious power, I proceeded to construct a Galvanic battery. By means of two different fluids and a piece of iron, it was soon formed. I then left it awhile to charge itself. In the mean time, I launched into an ocean of reflections, and indulged myself to the utmost in speculations upon futurity" (almost certainly the first reference to naval contemplation whilst awaiting the ponderous charging of a battery; c.f. every teenager once their phone battery drops below 1%). 

Now, don't assume silly 21st century reader of fiction, that we're excused from our protagonist-narrator's musing, indeed not. We get to revel in his peregrinations around the moral and ethical implications of a pawn-broker's usuriousness against his client, who just happened to be a Jew, who in turn lays an (unspecified) snare to "impiously" capture the pawn-broker (long story short: impossible situation because of regulation in the pawn-broker world; thank goodness dear Vandergoose was so prescient and exactly 200 years later there was no global economic crisis due to banking regulation). The diatribe meanders to consider "whether what was thus considered condemnable in a Jew, should be commended in those sacred societies who, actuated by the love of God, and by charity towards their brethren, have piously undertaken the glorious task of punishing the transgressions of mankind, and who, to do them justice, spare no pains, no cares, to keep the law employed." Alas, Vandergoose is not too succinct, but my reading of it suggests a firm 'no' on the matter (at least to our protagonist-narrator, I suspect though not perhaps to Vandergoose). We then move onto forgery and Russia "Immortal Catherine!", but, like a teenager distracted by a the ping of a new Insta-follower, our protagonist-narrator's Galvanic battery is fully 'impregnated' ('charged' seems so lacklustre by comparison) and the wool-gathering ceases. 

And so we head back to the Promethean fire: "By great good fortune [not Providence, God or Lachesis?] I happened to have a piece of wire of a considerable length in my pocket; and by means of it, I immediately brought all the figures in contact with the battery. The effect was instantaneous. Violent and distorted motions, winking, smelling, chewing, swallowing, kicking, smelling, chewing, and capering [capering! thank the pantheon that there was capering], were at once produced in all the figures. The sudden appearance of such hideous confusion, staggered all my philosophy." The next section: a precis: the battery rests on a great quantity of metallic ore (heavily seamed with gold) which seems to run all the way to the forest and thus the forest is set alight (in all seriousness, this is a great early example of the unintended consequences of wild science). The fire melts the fat from the hugegantic bear which then mixes with the wax of the [capering] figures. The fire continues unabated and melts his house (I forgot to tell you that he also made a house out of the beeswax). But...but...don't forget our earlier lake-glug: one cannot hope to expel an entire lake in one's morning ablutions. I know what you're thinking, did our protagonist-narrator vomit to extinguish the fire or pisseth on it? Not so simple: "the pores and vessels of my body burst open." An ocean then forms from the mixture of water, fat and wax, and don't be so supercilious to assume that these three substance are wont to be immiscible. "I must here inform my sagacious readers who are disposed to doubt the truth of my assertions, that after such a struggle against the fire, the water must necessarily have been warm enough to have readily mixed with them." [Bloody hell, I've got other books to catalogue]. Interesting quote: "But, when it is recollected that the conflagration was not caused by common fire, but by a Galvanic spark, possessed of peculiar chemical properties, among which is that of instantaneously changing the nature of any fluid through which is passes, no imputation of falsehood, nor even any charge of inaccurate can possibly be attached to me." Deal with it. Our protagonist-narrator luckily finds a piece of wood from the house and floats on it for three days [c.f. any host of theologies and mythologies]. "and with firm reliance on Providence, awaited my destiny." I just knew she would turn up. "Chapter XXI Resembling Something in the Bible" proceeds with all the "boisterous sons of Aeolus", talking about mixed metaphors [apologies for referring to theologies as metaphor]. At this point, I started to skim the book, but my eyes caught on the phrase "I immediately dismounted it from my head." I had to know what was theremounted. Oh, a wig. Boring. No, no...wait. "It would seem that a benignant Providence had presided at the construction of it; for its peculiar figure and its extensive dimensions made it capable of containing not only me, but several other persons"... I'm getting side-tracked now, the important thing here is to recognise the [speculative] influence on Frankenstein, a book which created a genre. Sorry, I can't help myself, he attracts animals into his wig and calls it his "hairy ark". 

Now we get serious, on a Micromegas/Star Maker scale. Our narrator-protagonist heads to Venus via a frozen spout of water from a whale that stretches from the moon to Venus. Brian Aldiss has a plant stretch from the earth to the moon in Hothouse, but where Aldiss describes a future world rich with flora and fauna, Vandergoose describes a Venus rich with, well, prostitutes. Alas, our poor protagonist-narrator finds them not to his taste. Using a pig intestine and bubbles he travels further into the solar system and arrives on Mercury (faster than "the greatest and boldest witch of Scotland, mounted upon her favourite magpye" - what a metaphor). We have a nice foray into the fight between the gravities of Venus and Mercury, again, something not often considered in such early interplanetary works. Unfortunately though, the book sacrifices the Munchaussenian for the Swiftian and it becomes a little less extravagant. 

Not in Bleiler or Barron. Two copies located on COPAC, Locke notes two copies, of which this may be one. One being purchased from Teitler in 1988, the other - an upgrade - being a library book purchased from Serendipity in 1989. I suspect this is a third, given that it has an Eric Quayle (1965) plate and note from him. Condition: p101 damaged with text supplied, title page heavily trimmed and mounted, spotting throughout but not too bad. 24pp ads to rear. 

For your further intrigue, like the taglines that sell movies, forthwith further quotes: "The bee, too blindly confident of her success to guard herself any longer with proper circumspection, received a blow from a thick branch of a tree, which was thrown by the bear's expiring strength." "I should certainly have been dashed to atoms, had it not been for a large frog that had crept forth from the lake to inhale fresh air, under the shade of a tree". I suspect that this book is more important than the literature gives it credit for, likely in part due to its scarcity. Whilst it is by no means a vanguard to the science fiction spawned by Frankenstein - it lacks the absolute stringency of science - it is certainly a taproot for the genre, and one can speculate over it being so for Shelley herself. Oh, and Vandergoose is likely a pseudonym, for whom I'm not sure. [8487, Hyraxia Books].


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